Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen doesn’t have an agent and has never had one. “No one would take me on until Into the Vietnamese Kitchen was published in 2006. Then they said ‘I’ll work with you anytime.’”
Andrea discusses her book ideas and negotiates subsequent book contracts herself, developing trust by staying with the same publisher. “As long as I remain at Ten Speed (an imprint of Random House), I don’t feel that I need to use an agent because they deal with me fairly. If I have questions I email Aaron (Wehner, the publisher) or the attorney at Random House. I don’t feel like I need to give 15 percent to an agent forever.”
Negotiating her own contracts makes her feel empowered. “You enter into a contract because all parties want to be fairly dealt with. My mindset is, ‘What is the publisher going to do for me? And what are my responsibilities and duties?’”
Andrea’s first job out of college was to audit banks for the federal government as a bank examiner. “I had to read all the fine print and rules and regulations and try to interpret them. I lasted a year,” she recalls.
Here’s what she says are the three biggest issues for authors when reviewing contracts:
1. Should you take the largest advance possible? Not necessarily. While you need an amount that will make you comfortable, you also need to earn out. Not doing so reflects on your performance and could be a factor in your next book deal. Also, the largest possible advance means the chance of getting royalties are greatly diminished, and that is one of two income streams for authors.
2. Can you get a higher royalty percentage? If you get a smaller advance, explore higher royalties. A publisher might agree to increase them based on books sold. After the first 10,000 copies, for example, you could negotiate an increase in the royalty percentage. Doing so gives you an incentive to sell more books. Digital versions of books also pay higher royalties, so make sure they are addressed in the contract.
3. Look for hidden fees in the contract. If you have to pay for the photography out of your advance, do your agent fees come off the top? That 15 percent hurts. (Also, if you are paying the photographer, you should have a say in who the publisher selects.) Also negotiate who is paying for the indexing, which has cost me $600 to $900.
Have you ever negotiated your own contract, and if so, do you have more tips to add? Or do you think a literary agent is worth the fee because you don’t have to deal with it?
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